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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 12:11 GMT
Lula's scandal-hit ally impeached
Jose Dirceu defends himself in Brazil's Congress
Jose Dirceu is the scandal's biggest casualty so far
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's former chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, has been expelled from Congress over a corruption scandal.

He was impeached by a vote of 293-192 for "breaking parliamentary decorum".

He has been accused of masterminding a scheme under which the governing Workers Party allegedly paid bribes to its congressional allies for votes.

Mr Dirceu, the architect behind President Lula's rise to power, denies the charges.

He said there was no vote-buying scheme, though he admitted illegal campaign financing by the Workers Party (PT).

"My party already apologised and is answering for that," he said. But he insisted he would not "admit to something I did not commit".

Mr Dirceu also defended the Brazilian president, who has not been implicated in the scandal. He said Lula knew nothing about the PT corruption and that his government was Brazil's best in 50 years.

The alleged corruption in Lula's party has paralysed Congress and drained his popularity ahead of next year's presidential election.

Although it is not clear whether he will stand for a second term, the BBC correspondent in Sao Paulo, Steve Kingstone, says the downfall of one of his closest confidantes is damaging.

Banned from elections

Mr Dirceu resigned as Lula's chief-of-staff in June, but returned to his seat in Brazil's lower house, where he vowed to fight impeachment.

Having now been expelled from parliament, he will be banned from running for office again for the next eight years.

Mr Dirceu, 59, was once one of the most powerful people in the government, and is the highest-profile casualty so far of the corruption scandal.

Up to 18 congressmen have been linked to the scandal, including the PT's president, treasurer and secretary general, who have all stepped down.

The congressional council on ethics is due to publish its final report on the cash-for-votes scandal soon.

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